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pic·​a·​yune ˌpi-kē-ˈyün How to pronounce picayune (audio)
: a Spanish half real piece formerly current in the South
: something trivial


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: of little value : paltry
picayunish adjective

Did you know?

In the 19th century, in Louisiana and other southern states, a picayune was a small coin (specifically, a Spanish half real) with a low monetary value. The coin's name derives from picaioun, a word that means "small coin" in Occitan (a language spoken in Southern France). It ultimately derives from the Occitan word pica, which means "to jingle" and which was created to mimic the sound of coins jingling. The real as a monetary unit fell out of use, however, and picayune joined two bits in the category of small amounts of money whose name eventually came to be used instead for things that are paltry and small.

Example Sentences

Noun our lives don't amount to a picayune in the great scheme of things Adjective They argued over the most picayune details. the picayune ponderings of a commentator who steadfastly believes other cultures are inferior to our own
Recent Examples on the Web
But only a fool would harp on picayune flaws when this rich material is being served with such musical polish and sensitivity. Charles Isherwood, WSJ, 18 Aug. 2022 Challenging ballot designations has become something of a sport in California politics — squabbles over the occasionally picayune rules return each cycle like the swallows to Capistrano. Los Angeles Times, 19 Mar. 2022 What would normally be regarded as an investigation that has reached the level of pursuing such picayune matters that it should be concluded, may to him or her be an investigation that ought to go on for another year. Dan Mclaughlin, National Review, 13 Mar. 2022 There are at least two explanations: One is that the violations are so picayune as to expose a petty scheme to dump the executive. Washington Post, 19 Feb. 2022 This was the Britain—still very imperial yet so very picayune—to which Mr. Sen, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in economics, had come to study. Tunku Varadarajan, WSJ, 21 Jan. 2022 Vance’s investigation, which appears to be focussed largely on business practices that Trump engaged in before taking office, may seem picayune in comparison with the outrageous offenses to democratic norms that Trump committed as President. Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, 12 Mar. 2021 But after months of family quarantine, combined with the confusion and exasperation of school-Zoom days, more of our wind-down reading sessions have involved the sureness of facts — picayune details about dogs and skyscrapers and coral reefs. Mark Athitakis, Washington Post, 24 Nov. 2020 If the last few months should have taught us anything, it’s the realization that who stands at proper attention for a flag and who chooses not to is a rather picayune thing to worry about given our current circumstances as a country. Dan Wolken, USA TODAY, 1 Aug. 2020 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'picayune.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History



Occitan picaioun, a small coin, from picaio money, from pica to jingle, of imitative origin

First Known Use


1804, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1836, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of picayune was in 1804


Dictionary Entries Near picayune

Cite this Entry

“Picayune.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/picayune. Accessed 28 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition



: of little value : paltry
also : petty sense 3

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